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Is Social Media Training Your Brain?

A new study found that frequent social media use is affecting teen’s brains.

This study, led by Dr. Eva Telzer, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that teens who check social media more throughout the day tend to be more responsive to social rewards and punishments.

Dr. Telzer said, “For youth who habitually check their social media, the brain is changing in a way that is becoming more and more sensitive to social feedback over time, and this is setting the stage for how the brain continues to develop into adulthood.”

The study tested 169 teenagers in rural North Carolina, aged 12-13, for three years. Each teen reported how often they checked Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat — from checking one to over 20 times per day. Then, each teen was tested by their reaction time to press a button, and depending on how fast they were (a “hit” or a “miss”), they received either a happy face as a reward, a neutral blurred face, or an angry face as a punishment.

The teens were measured with fMRI machines to scan their brains during these reaction tests. It was found that teens who reported higher social media usages had brain scans that were more sensitive to seeing rewards and punishments.

One particular area of the brain that responded more in these teens was the amygdala, which is responsible for processing fear and threats — our “flight or fight” response.

It’s still unclear exactly what these findings mean, though.

The study found a correlation between social media use and an increased sensitivity to feedback. But it can’t say for sure if one is causing the other. It’s also unclear if this is a good or a bad thing in general.

“Heightened sensitivity could lead to later compulsive social media behaviors,” Telzer said, acknowledging it’s unsure if the neural changes would mean behavioral changes like increased anxiety or addiction. Telzer added, “Or it could reflect an adaptive neural change that helps teens navigate their social worlds.”

Telzer hopes to continue studying this. Although right now it’s unclear what this is doing to teen brain’s exactly, it’s important to be aware of. Many believe that social media usage in teens needs to be monitored or restricted more, and this may be one reason as to why.


By Caileigh Winslade, Senior, ChiArts

Instagram: @fairtwist / Twitter: @silverrebi


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Written by Caileigh Winslade

I'm your local writer, video editor, and game designer, but when I'm not creating things I'm probably fueling my rhythm game addiction or cuddling one of my four cats.

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